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'The Rachel Maddow Show'for Friday March 20, 2009

Read the transcript to the Friday show

Guest: Craig Robinson, Dan Choi, Kent Jones

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  Thank you for staying with us for the next hour.

President Obama‘s brother-in-law, Craig Robinson, is going to be here this hour to talk about the commander-in-chief‘s “Basketball Jones.”

And the military officer who risked his job on this show last night will be back with the rest of his story after he was mysteriously cut off mid-sentence last night.

And the leading right-wing media outlet in this country admits it was fundamentally wrong about one of its fundamental pet political issues—shock and awe there.

That‘s all coming up this hour.

But, first, candidate Barack Obama was simultaneously revered and heckled for the power of his communication skills.  Remember when his opponents teased him for the size of the crowds who would turn up to hear him speak on the campaign trail?  Well, tonight, exactly two months after officially becoming President Barack Obama, we have seen what the president intends to do with that power, with his communication skills, his multimedia super-efficacy.

For contrast, recall that George W. Bush was the president in the bubble, appearing before hand-selected loyalist crowds, distributing his message via a select niche of sympathetic media outlets.  Recall his relatively frequently deliver of poker-faced, grim, alone Oval Office speeches.

President Obama, on the other hand, is everywhere.  This week, instead of staying in Washington to ping-pong the AIG scandal with the beltway media, the president paid a visit to the west coast, where he hosted a pair of unscreened town hall meetings.

Communication medium number one: Obama took questions not from reporters but from regular, uncensored, not pre-approved, not pre-screened Californians.  And their questions didn‘t once have anything to do with AIG.  Imagine that which is not to say that Obama avoided the issue of AIG altogether, he just managed to address it on his own terms.

First, he brought it up in a remark at one of those town halls, a remark that made the head hunting aspect of the Washington-centric AIG conversation seem a little petty and partisan.


PRES. BARACK OBAMA, UNITED STATES:  I know Washington‘s all in a tizzy and everybody is pointing fingers at each other and saying it‘s their fault, the Democrats‘ fault, the Republicans‘ fault.  Listen, I‘ll take responsibility.  I‘m the president.


MADDOW:  OK.  Well, I guess that‘s that then.

Step two was to go ahead and take some AIG questions, but not just from beltway media, not just from reporters, he took questions on AIG from Jay Leno—communication medium number two.  Mr. Leno did, of course, asked the president about those controversial bonuses.  But there was a whole informal, late night talk show vibe about the whole thing, not to mention a studio audience that had camped out all night, for 10-hours, for the possible privilege of sitting in the same room with him.


OBAMA:  We are going to do everything we can to see if we can get these bonuses back.  But, I think, the most important thing that we can do is make sure that we put in a bunch of financial regulatory mechanisms to prevent companies like an AIG holding the rest of us hostage.  Because that‘s—that‘s the real problem.


MADDOW:  What you just saw there was a seamless transition from the endless AIG bonus outrage discussion to the how-to-fix-it discussion to come—Wall Street regulation.  Seamless, right?

And, in the middle of all that, the middle of the town halls and the “Jay Leno,” and managing of the AIG debacle, the president also managed to find the time to send out a big e-mail blast to his campaign supporters, asking for their supporters on his budget proposal.  That would be communication medium number three.

He also found time to fill out an NCAA bracket on ESPN, sports TV communication medium number four.

And he found time to call into Ed Schultz‘s radio show, communication medium number five.

The president is cutting out the middlemen and middlewomen in the national press, exercising what remains his greatest power, his greatest asset—his personal appeal to the American people, which may not last forever but he sure has it now, and his opponents concede that.  Having done all that in all those different media this week, today, President Obama capped the week with a remarkable, newfangled, cut-out-the-middleman appeal to non-American people.  He released a video message, a long one, to the people of Iran, who are celebrating the arrival of the Persian New Year.


OBAMA:  For nearly three decades, relations between our nations have been strained.  But at this holiday, we are reminded of the common humanity that binds us together.  On the occasion of your New Year, I want you, the people and leaders of Iran, to understand that the future we seek is a future with renewed exchanges among our people and greater opportunities for partisanship and commerce.  It‘s a future where the old divisions are overcome, where you and all of your neighbors and the wider world can live in greater security and greater peace.


MADDOW:  Three and a half minutes of nuanced, savvy personal communication with the people of America‘s most often derided and demagogued adversary.  It was released to TV networks in the Middle East and posted to the White House Web site.  You see the text there at the bottom of the screen?  He had it translated into Farsi and subtitled.  He even spoke a little Farsi himself at the end.


OBAMA:  Thank you and (SPEAKING FARSI).


MADDOW:  Happy New Year, everyone.  Here is to the year 1388 on the Iranian calendar.  I feel like I‘m just barely getting used to writing, you know, 1387 on my checks.  Where does the time go?

Here also—here also is to the delightful challenge of covering a president who can apparently run rings around the old media ways of doing things whenever he wants to.

Joining us now live from Beirut, Lebanon, is Borzou Daragahi. 

He‘s the “Los Angeles Times” bureau chief there.

Borzou, thank you so much for coming on the show tonight.  It‘s nice to see you.


MADDOW:  How did the president do with speaking Farsi at the end of his—at the end of his address there and what did he say?

DARAGAHI:  I think, he—basically said, “Happy Holidays.”  And, you know, he used the kind of standard word, “eid,” for holiday and, you know, I think he did a pretty good job.  It was a pretty good pronunciation.

MADDOW:  How many people do you think will see this message in Iran?  I know that Iran didn‘t air it on state TV.  But I don‘t know have a sense of how media-savvy and how well-connected your average, you know, resident of Tehran is.

DARAGAHI:  Well, I think that—I mean, I know that Iranians are very media-savvy at this time.  Satellite television penetration is beyond just the big cities, now in the countryside.  Most people at least know someone who has access to satellite television and also, Internet penetration is among the highest rates in the Middle East.  So, eventually this message will trickle towards the ordinary people of Iran.

MADDOW:  Borzou, I know that other American presidents have made similar appeals to the people of Iran.  The secretaries of states and presidents routinely send New Year‘s greetings, for example.  But this message from Obama did seemed pretty substantive.

And I thought it was interesting that Trita Parsi from the National Iranian American Council said that it was a big deal that Obama used the Iran‘s full name, the Islamic Republic of Iran.  Trita Parsi saying that maybe that some sort of subtle signal that the U.S. is no longer pursuing regime change there.

Did you pick up on any substantive signals like that?

DARAGAHI:  Absolutely.  I think that was very significant, because a lot of times when U.S. politicians refer to Iran, they do not use that full name.  And also, in terms of addressing these issues, it was very substantive in terms of addressing the actual problems that exist between Iran and the U.S.  Usually, you have two kinds of communications by U.S. officials towards Iran, either sort of ultimatums, expressing unhappiness with one aspect or another of Iranian policy, or this kind of soft, very genial gestures towards the Iranian people but not towards the leaders.

And here, you had sort of a combination of political and humane rhetoric that was rare.  That you haven‘t heard so far.

MADDOW:  What do you think the overall strategic move is here?  I mean, who inside Iran is this message from President Obama potentially good for and who might it potentially undermine if it could have that big an impact?

DARAGAHI:  Well, I mean, it will throw the ball in the Iranians‘ court.  And it could very well provide ammunition to moderates in Iran who want to have better relations with the U.S., who want to change course in terms of Iran‘s foreign policy.

But the hard-liners in Iran are very strong and they have come out already, very quickly, saying that while this message from Obama is all find and good, we won‘t do anything—we won‘t really budge until we see some concrete changes on the ground.  Words are nice, but actions are going to move us.

MADDOW:  Borzou, you are stationed in Beirut right now.  You‘ve worked all over the Middle East and you‘ve done so for a long time, do you get the sense that governments in the Middle East are troubled by Barack Obama‘s popularity among their populations?  That it is in certain countries seen as potentially, politically problematic?

DARAGAHI:  Oh, definitely.  In Iran, the fact that Obama has great personal appeal among Iranians as well as people throughout the Islamic world, it poses a unique challenge for them.  Even so far, Iranian leaders, for example, have not made the kind of venomous personal attacks against Obama that they used to regularly make against Bush.

In fact, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, recently, he—during the annual celebration for the revolution, he wanted to criticize America, and again, he brought up Bush even though Bush is no longer president.  He, you know, didn‘t have the—he had the wisdom not to go after Obama who enjoys immense popularity.

MADDOW:  Borzou Daragahi, “L.A. Times” Beirut bureau chief, thank you so much for staying up through the middle of the night to join us tonight.  I really appreciate it.

DARAGAHI:  It‘s my pleasure.

MADDOW:  So, who is to blame for the AIG of it all?  Is it Tim Geithner, Barack Obama, Chris Dodd, the stimulus bill?  That darn stimulus bill!  Come on, you know better than that.  How to impress people at parties with your deep but counterintuitive understanding of bailout politics—coming up on the show.

And, college basketball‘s March Madness is in full flower.  And the first brother-in-law of these United States, Craig Robinson, will be joining us in just a few minutes to talk basketball, the president, and why today could just be the best day of the year.

But first, One More Thing about the Persian New Year.  Oh, wait, where‘s my Persian New Year glasses?  All right.  Excuse me.  Happy 1388, again.

President Obama was not the only one reaching out to Iran during the celebration of Nowruz.  Israel‘s president, Shimon Peres appealed to the people of Iran today as well, and urged them to reclaim their place among the nations of the enlightened world.  I wonder how that was received.

And making the transition from Israeli presidents to Comedy Central hosts, for maybe the first time in my life, certainly for the first time in my life while wearing something like this, I should also say that Stephen Colbert also offered his warm wishes for the year 1388, apparently prompted by the fact that he just found out that his image was being used to sell pants in Iran.


STEPHEN COLBERT, TV HOST:  I am disgusted with the continuing commercialization of the Persian New Year.  How dare they exploit me to promote their slackses of evil?


MADDOW:  All right.  Hands down, Colbert wins, again, as usual.


MADDOW:  There would be no outrage about AIG bonuses if AIG hadn‘t need bailing out, right?  I mean, sure, people get mad at fat cats with high salaries when everyone else is broke.  But if the fact that this company was using our money, the taxpayers money, to pay those bonuses that caused the entire country to grind our teeth down to their nubbins, to rage at these guys.  So, there would be no rage about AIG turning taxpayer bailout dollars into executive bonuses if there hadn‘t been a bailout.  AIG wouldn‘t have needed bailing out if it weren‘t too big to fail, too integral to all the parts of the financial industry.  AIG wouldn‘t have become too big to fail if they hadn‘t become a big, hybrid, complicated uber financial everything company that made all sorts of arcane financially-engineered moves that got them squirreled into every financially-related business that you can think of.

AIG wouldn‘t have become a big, hybrid, complicated, uber financial everything company if there hadn‘t been—and this is key—deregulation of Wall Street that allowed firms to get like that.  And massive deregulation of Wall Street wouldn‘t have happened without a rise of a political movement that preached regulation was inherently evil and deregulation was inherently wise and virtuism would make everyone rich and there will be free, well-behaved puppies for every family.

If you want an example of how this deregulation thing worked, you can totally use this at the high school dance or a bar or whatever to try to impress someone.  Somebody starts complaining about the bailout, complaining about AIG, you tell them—actually, the real villain is Gramm-Leach Bliley.  Just say it with total confidence.  Watch.  You will get dates.

Here‘s how to explain it.  The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999 was introduced by three Republicans, Gramm, Leach, and Bliley.  It repealed the wall that had been put up in the Great Depression, a wall that kept investment banks separate from commercial banks, separate from insurance firms and so on.  When that wall got torn down, we ended up with big, hybrid, complicated, uber financial everything companies that we couldn‘t have had before.  That‘s how Citibank ended up eating Travelers Group Insurance to change from Citibank into Citigroup, which just happened to be completely impossible to regulate.

All of the sudden, with these new, uber, giant, complicated, hybrid firms, the Wall Street cops, the regulators, they were essentially still on horseback while the robbers, the guys trying to get away with anything to make a buck, they were in spaceships.  So, we had robbers in spaceship and cops on horseback.

All right.  So, if talking about Gramm-Leach-Bliley doesn‘t get you a date or at least admiring glances from your peers, drop one of this on then—the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000.  That one said that certain things that financial companies do to spread their risk around, to keep their balance sheets looking good even when they‘re make hugely risky deals, these are things like credit default swaps and collateralized debt obligations.  You‘ve heard these terms, right?

This legislation decided that those things, those risk-hiding things would be completely exempt from regulation—completely exempt.  They would not be regulated.  So, from a cops and robbers perspective, that‘s like saying, OK, now it‘s legal to wear a ski mask and carry a gun inside a bank, oh, and driving a getaway car is legal now, too.  How would you like to be a cop in that town?

Deregulation laws like Gramm-Leach-Bliley and the Commodity Futures Modernization Act, these were pushed as great ideas to get the horrible burden of government regulation off of Wall Street.  The horrible burden of regulation was lifted off of Wall Street, and then Wall Street proceeded to self-destruct.  Now it‘s time to start over, and maybe this time, avoid the same mistakes?

Joining us now is Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, David Cay Johnston.  He‘s the author of “Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enriched Themselves at Government Expense and Stick You with the Bill.”

Mr. Johnston, thanks for joining us tonight.  Nice to see you.


MADDOW:  Everyone on Capitol Hill is trying to blame each other for the AIG bonuses.  Do you think it‘s possible that this instead could be a teaching moment about why we own AIG in the first place?  What went wrong?  Do you think it‘s time to start teaching about regulation and deregulation?

JOHNSTON:  Well, I certainly hope so because, otherwise, this will continue to happen.  People will take unwarranted risks.  You know, the reason we have regulation is not for people who behave it‘s for when people misbehave.  And if you believe what the banking community said, then let‘s follow it to its logical conclusion.

Why don‘t we save a lot of money as taxpayers by getting rid of traffic lights and stop signs and the speed limits because we‘re all responsible drivers, we don‘t need to be regulated and traffic will flow smoothly, right?

MADDOW:  What could possibly go wrong?  Yes.

Well, do you think that the people who argued for deregulation of Wall Street in the first place feel at all chastened by what has happened since?  Have you seen any signs of penance?  Any sign that they are changing their minds?

JOHNSTON:  No.  And I would be somewhat surprised if they did, because this was done with a lot of ideological fervor.  But I don‘t think that‘s the important part, Rachel.  I think the important part is that the American public recognize that this was a terrible policy mistake.  It‘s costing us dearly and we should correct that mistake by going back to what has worked for decades and decades—which is sound, reasonable restraint when people are dealing with the money you and I put into—from our paychecks into the bank or into the insurance company or anywhere else.

MADDOW:  Is there a problem, though, that so many people who are considered to be experts in this field are people who have Wall Street experience, and so, we don‘t have—essentially an adversarial enough relationship between the proverbial cops and the proverbial robbers in this field?

JOHNSTON:  Well, certainly, you need people who have expertise.  But it is, I think, a little troubling that the Obama administration has gone back to people who were supporters of these ideas or at least allowed them to happen.  Remember, it was President Clinton who signed both of the bills which .

MADDOW:  That‘s right.

JOHNSTON:  . I loved your description of it, I thought that was brilliant.  They are the ones who are running the shop.  The rules that we need are not terribly complicated to impose, separate retail banking, investment banking and insurance.  Don‘t allow people to borrow with excessive levels of risk, the same thing as not allowing people to buy houses with no money down or borrowing more than the price of the house.

MADDOW:  Who are going to be the roadblocks to re-regulation or towards, I guess, reinstating the old regulations or whatever they are going to call this in order to make it politically sellable—who do you think is going be the opposition in Congress?

JOHNSTON:  Well, whoever Wall Street is financing.  I think that Representative Cantor from Virginia has shown himself to be one of the champions of whatever Wall Street wants, lower tax rates, no regulation.  Those people who would rely on for their campaign contributions on those people who make money when the regulators are not around, or—as you put it—the cops are only on horseback.

MADDOW:  David Cay Johnston, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter—thank you for your time tonight.  You have a way of making this stuff understandable.  Nice to see you.

JOHNSTON:  Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW:  So, let‘s say you are a really good high school basketball player, and a college coach comes to your house to try to recruit you to come to his school.  And the coach says, “Oh, by the way, my brother-in-law is Barack Obama.”  How fast do you enroll at that school?

Michelle Obama‘s brother, Craig Robinson, is the head basketball coach at Oregon State and he will be here to talk about his famous in-law and why he and his famous in-law both love March Madness.  It‘s very cool that he‘s going to be on the show.  That‘s coming up.


MADDOW:  Coming up: A special guest here to coach me through my admittedly, totally lame NCAA bracket picks.  It‘s the head coach of the Oregon State University basketball team, who also just happens to be Michelle Obama‘s brother.  I love my job.  I love my job.  I love my job.  I love my job.

OK.  First, though, it‘s time for a couple of holy mackerel stories in today‘s news.

There are a few big things in American politics that we are anticipating, that we are expecting soon, and that, in some cases, we have already started fighting about in advance.  There is the budget, there‘s health care reform, there‘s the president‘s new Afghanistan policy expected imminently, there‘s regulating Wall Street, there‘s the global warming bill, and one biggie that has sort of already started is the union bill, the Employee Free Choice Act—the bill that would make it easier to join a union.

Now, the fight over the Employee Free Choice Act started long before the bill was introduced in Congress this year because it‘s become such a huge priority of conservative and business causes.  They really want to defeat it.

Today, there‘s big news about that fight.  Conservative and business causes have long counted on the rabidly right-wing editorial page of the “Wall Street Journal” to help lead the fight against the union bill, which has meant that it has been a reliable repeater of the untrue accusation, the canard, that the Employee Free Choice Act would eliminate, would ban secret ballot elections as a means by which employees could form a union.  “The Journal” keeps saying it will do away with the secret ballots.

From “The Journal” editorial page a year ago, quote, “The Employee Free Choice Act, a measure that rewrites the rules for union organizing by eliminating secret-ballot legislations.”  From “The Journal” five months ago, quote, “Labor wants to trash the secret-ballot elections that have been in place since the 1930s.”  Just 10 days ago from “The Journal” editorial page, “Big labor‘s drive to eliminate secret-ballot for union elections has united American business in opposition.”

Well, today, in a 180-degree about face, the “Wall Street Journal” editorial page stopped saying that.  Quote, “The bill doesn‘t remove the secret-ballot option from the National Labor Relations Act.”  Tada!  That‘s actually true.  Of course, it was part of an editorial that was still rabidly against the bill, but at least, they are no longer lying about the thing that they are against—progress.

And our final holy mackerel story today is honestly just an excuse to play this video.  This is an underwater volcano erupting near Tonga.  Tonga is a 170-island archipelago between Australia and Tahiti.  Look at that.  Whoa!  Yes.  The plume of smoke you are seeing - it was 25,000 feet tall at its height. 

The volcano is underwater.  Imagine like, paddling out in your fishing boat and seeing that on the horizon.  The site of the eruption is far from land.  Nobody was injured.  Nobody was in danger as a result of it.

“Scientific American” says that Tonga is part of a zone of volcanic activity and earthquakes in the Pacific that is known as the Ring of Fire.  And it boils, boils, boils.


MADDOW:  If you are watching this show right now, thank you.  It means either you are not a basketball fan, or maybe you are, in which case watching this show right now is probably causing you physical pain. 

That‘s because, right now, on a million TV channels, and all over the inter-webs there are 16 college basketball games going on, including four that are happening right at this second. 

For some Americans, these are the best two days of the year, the start of the NCAA tournament.  Noon until midnight, high-stakes basketball, single elimination.  It‘s all day, 12 straight hours.  It‘s like basketball Christmas and basketball birthday and basketball New Year‘s all rolled into one. 

Famously, of course, our new president loves basketball.  And famously, the Fiblawdus(ph), I think, is how you‘d say it, the first brother-in-law of the United States, older brother to the first lady, is himself a Pac-10 big-time basketball coach at Oregon State. 

Joining us now is Craig Robinson.  He is the head coach of the men‘s basketball team at Oregon State, also brother of the first lady and brother-in-law of President Obama.  Coach Robinson, it‘s a real pleasure to have you on the show.  Thanks for joining us. 


Oh, thanks for having me, Rachel.  Glad to be here. 

MADDOW:  So your brother-in-law capped a campaign promise and filled out his bracket live on ESPN.  He got about 11 of 16 right on day on of the tournament.  I‘ve got to ask you, how did you do in your bracket? 

ROBINSON:  Well, we can‘t legally have a bracket being a coach.  But the Robinson household which is myself, my wife Kelly and my son Avery and my daughter Leslie - we were all 13 of 16 in our just little family for fun bracket. 

MADDOW:  So you beat the president which presumably means he owes you dinner or something?  I guess, you can‘t even be betting like that. 

ROBINSON:  We didn‘t bet with him.  We just filled out our brackets.  But it is early.  You know, that was only the first 16 games.  There are another 16 games, and then you‘ve got the sweet 16, the elite eight and the final four.  So well, you know, that can change. 

MADDOW:  I know that a big part of your job as head coach is to get into good basketball players‘ living rooms and to tell those players and their parents that they should move to Corvallis, Oregon to come play for you at Oregon State. 

I wonder if the whole brother-in-law issue - if it comes up in recruiting.  I wonder if the Beavers are going to have, like, the best four years of recruiting ever during this first term in the White House.

ROBINSON:  Well, we sure hope so.  I mean, it would be great if that were a factor in kids‘ decision making.  But most families don‘t make their decision on where to go to college based on who the coach is related to.  I think most people want to find a place that fits them from an academic basketball, sort of overall personal comfort standpoint.  And that will make the decision. 

Now, being the brother-in-law of the president and the brother of the first lady, if that helps us get into more living rooms, we need all the help we can get so we‘ll take that. 

MADDOW:  I hear you.  I wonder as somebody who loves the game, and I know that, famously, you had a career as a bond trader.  You were doing really well in finance and decided to leave that behind and go back to coaching because you love the game so much. 

I wonder as somebody who loves basketball and has really devoted his life to the sport in a way, if you feel like having a basketball fan, a guy who plays basketball in the White House, if it is good for the sport? 

ROBINSON:  Oh, absolutely.  I think it is very good for the sport that President Obama is a huge fan.  But I also think it is great for the country that he has sort of come up having played basketball.  I think basketball is a huge indicator - or I should say, how you behave on the basketball court is a huge indicator of how you behave in real life. 

And I‘ve seen him both on and off the court and he is very consistent, very high integrity, high character.  So I‘m excited for the country that we have a basketball fan in the White House. 

MADDOW:  How do those things manifest when you‘re playing basketball with him?  What is the sign of high integrity and high character in a basketball player? 

ROBINSON:  Well, when you are playing pick-up basketball it is a self-regulating enterprise.  So you have to call fouls and give up fouls and that is - there are people who want to win no matter what and they make calls that aren‘t fair.  They make calls that aren‘t legitimate. 

In addition to that, you know, basketball is a team sport where you have to pass the ball and you have to play with other people in order to win the game.  He is a very team-oriented guy as well.  So those are a couple of ways that your personality comes out. 

And then the big thing is, is that it is a high exercise sport.  So you get fatigued.  And when you get fatigued, you don‘t think about putting on airs.  So your real personality comes out. 

MADDOW:  A unique perspective on the character of the president.  I have to ask you about a trip that your sister took this week as first lady.  She went to Anacostia High.  And Anacostia - I guess, it‘s in a way - it‘s sort of an analogous neighborhood in D.C. to the Southside of Chicago where you two grew up with your parents. 

I wonder if you are happy to see that, her talking a lot about coming from a working class upbringing, bringing up perspective into the White House, going to a place like Anacostia and talking to those kids and saying, “I grew up in a neighborhood much like this and you can be anything you want to do.”  I wonder how that makes you feel? 

ROBINSON:  Well, it makes me feel terrific, I mean, having come from that same background myself.  It is what our kids, what society - we all need to see that there‘s hope for everyone, not just for the people who grow up privileged and those of us who get to go to the really good schools. 

It‘s great for my sister and the president to be able to be in the White House and show kids that there‘s hope for them to do whatever your dreams may - whatever your dreams are and whatever you may want to do.  So it is very exciting.  Doesn‘t surprise me.  I‘m glad she got out there.  I‘m sure she‘ll be going out even more. 

MADDOW:  One last question for you, Craig, and that is - your mom is living in the White House now.  I have to - it must be so strange.  Your mom lives in the White House.  Your sister lives in the White House. 


MADDOW:  I wonder if you know if she likes it, how it is going, if you think it is a good idea? 

ROBINSON:  Oh, yes.  I think she is beginning to like it.  I think it was one of those endeavors she was kind of leery about and not because it is living in the White House.  But my mom was always the type of mom who didn‘t want to live with her kids after they had become adults because she thought that was sort of a sacred ground, for lack of a better term. 

But she‘s got her own area there so she doesn‘t feel like she is intruding on their family.  And she is there to be able to help with the girls, which I think is really important given how much time and energy the president and the first lady have to spend outside of the home. 

And so the kids have someone that they are very comfortable with staying with them.  And, you know, I think that my mom is kind of getting more comfortable with it and starting to really enjoy it. 

MADDOW:  Craig Robinson, head coach of the men‘s basketball team of Oregon State, the brother of course of First Lady Michelle Obama.  Good luck to your team in your postseason games and thanks for taking the time to talk to us. 

ROBINSON:  Thanks for having me. 

MADDOW:  OK.  Last night on the show, we saw some genuine drama here.  I don‘t want to give it away, but basically, a U.S. military officer put his job on the line, on the air, on this show.  About two seconds later, totally mysteriously, we lost the satellite feed for him. 

Superhuman levels of frustration.  Luckily, Lt. Dan Choi was kind enough to come back to complete his self-imperiling thoughts.  That is next on this show.

But first, one more thing about March madness.  If any of you are wondering how it is going with my bracket picks.  As of right now, with a few games still to play, my score in the first round is 18 right, 10 wrong.  West Virginia what happened? 

But you know what?  President Obama, also is at 18 right and 10 wrong right now, which means I can have sly on Air Force One?   


MADDOW:  As the Republican Party continues its search for meaning in the minority, RNC Chairman Michael Steele continues to be a heck of a lot of fun to pay attention to.  While guest-hosting a radio show this morning, Mr. Steele took a call on taxing AIG bonuses.  Here‘s how it went.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE CALLER:  I believe it is the First Amendment that specifically states that a law cannot be passed to specifically target a person or a group of people. 


UNIDENTIFIED MALE CALLER:  And well, you know, we‘ve got a president that supports this who is supposed to be a constitutional scholar. 

STEELE:  Yes, right.  Right. 


MADDOW:  First amendment, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion prohibiting the free exercise thereof, abridging the freedom of speech or of the press, the right of the people peaceably to assemble to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” 

That is the First Amendment, Mr. Constitutional Scholar, Sir, but you keep up the misplaced outrage anyway.  Every day, I say a little thank you for Michael Steele. 


MADDOW:  Do you want to see the two most dramatic and exciting things that happened on the last RACHEL MADDOW SHOW?  It was right about this time in the show.  We were doing a segment about the “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” policy.  “Don‘t ask, don‘t tell” is of course the disastrous result of President Clinton‘s attempt to tiptoe through the political minefield of our country‘s ban on gay people serving in the military. 

President Obama has pledged to overturn that ban.  But in the meantime, the military is still busy kicking people out.  In January of this year, in the Army alone, 11 gay soldiers were discharged under the “don‘t-ask, don‘t tell” policy. 

So last night, on the show, I welcomed 1st Lt. Dan Choi.  He is a founding member of a brave new organization of West Point grads that‘s called Knights Out, K-N-I-G-H-T-S.  Knights Out is a group that is fighting against the “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” policy. 

So I welcomed Lt. Choi to the show and shortly thereafter, two truly, truly dramatic moments.  One spoken by Dan Choi and one that I still can‘t explain.  Color me paranoid, it was very weird. 


LT. DAN CHOI, FOUNDING MEMBER, KNIGHTS OUT:  By saying three words to you today, I am gay, those three words are a violation of Title 10 of the U.S. Code.  It‘s a code that is polluted by the people who want us to lie and basically they want us to lie about our identity.  It is an immoral code and goes up against every single that we were taught at West Point with our honor code.  The honor code says a cadet will not lie, cheat, steal (INAUDIBLE).

MADDOW (on camera):  We are having technical difficulties which is tragic even more than usual because I think he was in the middle of an awesome point right there.  I‘m hoping that our producers will get this back.  Anybody who could give me advice about whether or not Lt. Choi is going to be able to join us again?  We could have him mime it out but I think that would be awkward. 


MADDOW:  So on the show, Dan Choi publicly announces that he is a gay soldier, a dramatic and brave and bold moment.  And then we lost his audio feed which was also dramatic, but also infuriating.  Thankfully, Lt. Choi is back with us tonight.

Here again, Dan Choi, founding member of the Knights Out organization, a graduate of West Point, an Iraq combat veteran.  Lt.  Choi, again, my sincere apologies and thank you for joining us tonight.  

CHOI:  Well, it‘s wonderful to be back.  And I think we all understand your agenda was just to make this appearance tonight the second time in my life that I actually wore some makeup.  So I‘ll take a hit for the team.  Wonderful to be back.  

MADDOW:  I understand.  My nefarious plan has come to fruition.  All right.  I understand that you are an infantry platoon leader with the New York National Guard. 

CHOI:  That‘s right.

MADDOW:  And as we were discussing last night and we were so rudely interrupted, by founding this organization, Knights Out, you are violating the “don‘t tell” part of “don‘t-ask don‘t tell.”  Is there a possibility that you could lose your job, that you could be at risk of getting kicked out of the service because you‘re doing this? 

CHOI:  Of course.  And just like the 12,500 soldiers that have been kicked out since the 15 years of this law and policy, we really just find that as a group of West Point graduates, it‘s more important to do the right thing. 

We swore that we, as officers, would follow every order and we would actually execute all of the orders that we were given unless they were illegal or immoral or unethical. 

Now, what we see is that this law causing soldiers, the 65,000 gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender soldiers that are currently serving in active duty - causing them to lie - that is an immoral law.  I think it needs to be repealed and our group stands shoulder-to-shoulder with all of those soldiers that are serving their country selflessly.  

MADDOW:  Dan, I know that you‘ve served an extended tour in Baghdad from 2006 and 2007 when you were serving in Iraq.  When you were on active duty, were you able to be honest with the members of your platoon about being gay? 

CHOI:  You know, I was very secretive and I was actually very horrified of being kicked out of the Army because of who I was.  And it made it very difficult because I loved being in Iraq and counterinsurgency we‘re fighting, I would be able to go because I have a degree in Arabic language.  I would be able to use the training that I was given while at West Point.

And I would go into a city council meeting and talk to Iraqi government folks and say (speaking in Arabic) and those things go so far when you‘re trying to tell people that, “We are here to partner with you.”

And we‘re trying to teach the Iraqi government and the Iraqi soldiers that they should never subordinate their military, they should never support people that protect their country to a small interest group or a religion doctrine because that will divide the people, and it doesn‘t protect the entire people. 

Now, one of harder things was coming back from Iraq.  Being an Iraq combat veteran, an Arabic linguist, a West Point graduate, I come back to America as a second-class citizen who‘s forced to lie because of this rule, because of this law.  And because Congress has not yet overturned this, and we‘re saying once and for all, it needs to be repealed.  

MADDOW:  West Point grad, Iraq War combat veteran, Dan Choi, thank you for your service and thanks for your bravery in coming out.  

CHOI:  You know, Rachel, thank you for everything that you‘re doing to educate America.  It‘s been a wonderful pleasure to be on your show.

MADDOW:  Thanks, Dan.  All right.  Coming up on “COUNTDOWN,” Keith gets “Family Guy” creator Seth McFarland‘s reaction to the week‘s news. 

Next on this show, my friend, Kent Jones takes his look at the weak

that‘s W-E-A-K, “Weak in Review.”


MADDOW:  Now, it‘s time to look back in the last seven days of public lame-itude.  Here now is my friend Kent Jones with the “Weak in Review.”  Hello, Kent.  What have you got? 

JONES:  Oh, weaky, weaky, weaky, weaky.  First up, male bonding of the weak.  These members of the NCAA‘s Selection Committee were celebrating after finishing up the March Madness brackets.  Lesson here, always rehearse handshake big guy.  What?  Weak!  Don‘t really know what I‘m doing.  Problem.  

MADDOW:  I can do this.  Then - yes.  

JONES:  It goes all over the place.  Next up, legislation of the weak.  Tennessee State Representative Stacey Campfield “Don‘t Say Gay” bill which would essentially prevent teachers from even talking about the gay for any reason in the classroom, including, oh, I don‘t know, teaching young people. 

Fortunately, that got tabled this week.  Campfield‘s rationale, quote, “I think our teachers need to stick with reading, writing and arithmetic.  It confuses a lot of children that are already in a difficult part of life, and it‘s a very complex issue.”  Weak.

MADDOW:  If you don‘t say the word, the gay just goes away. 

JONES:  Yes.  Shh ... don‘t say it!

MADDOW:  Before we had a word for it, there wasn‘t any of it.  

JONES:  I read that in books.  Next, holiday makeover of the weak.  Since St. Patrick‘s Day has become such a sloppy secular beer fest, there is a movement afoot among some card shops and the Disney Channel to rename that day Shamrock Day.  Boo.  Another rich tradition disappearing down consumer culture hall.  McWeak.  McWeak.  Oh, weak. 

MADDOW:  Oh, weak.

JONES:  Blarny -

MADDOW:  Shamrock day?  Come on.  

JONES:  Yes.  Come on.

MADDOW:  Come on. 

JONES:  St. Patrick‘s is fine. 


JONES:  Finally, exit strategy of the weak.  With police in pursuit two suspected drug dealers toss thousands of dollars out the window on the San Diego freeway today.  Of course, some folks wanting a personal stimulus got out of the car to chase down loose 20s and 100s. 

Yes.  So drug dealing, fleeing from cops, endangering other motorists and grubbing for cash and last but not least, littering, weak-a-palooza!  

MADDOW:  Did it actually stop the cops from chasing that guy?  Was there enough chaos?

JONES:  No, no.  I didn‘t even (UNINTELLIGIBLE).  Throw the cash!  Throw the cash! 

MADDOW:  All right.  Cocktail moment for you today, Kent.  Remember our subway hero guest from a couple of days ago? 

JONES:  Unforgettable.

MADDOW:  Chad Lindsey -

JONES:  Yes.

MADDOW:  He rescued a man who had collapsed in front of a speeding subway train ...

JONES:  Tremendous.

MADDOW:  ... on Monday.  He was here on Wednesday.  I‘ve got an E-mail today from a friend who works on the 14th floor of this building who says, “I just saw Chad Lindsey in the lobby of our building.”  Oh my god, and I quote, “I yelled, ‘We love you subway hero‘ at him and we all applauded.  It turns out he was coming by to drop off the shirts that he makes.  These shirts that I put up in the office? 

JONES:  Oh, my god!

MADDOW:  These are made by the subway hero guy. 

JONES:  That‘s phenomenal.  I love this shirt.

MADDOW:  His company is Fresh Eggs Here.  Details on our Web site.

JONES:  Fantastic.

MADDOW:  Have a great weekend.  Good night. 




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